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Project on Government Oversight




President Bush Renews Environmental Exemption for Area 51

September 17, 2003 


Ensuring the secrecy of activities at Groom Lake, also known as Area 51, President Bush renewed the secret facility's annual exemption for environmental reporting. "The truth be told, everything concerning Area 51 has been classified by the Air Force, which is ludicrous. This blatant overuse of government secrecy exposes the public to abuses of government power," stated Scott Amey, a senior investigator.

In the mid-1990's, POGO was involved in the efforts to organize Area 51 workers, and their families, who may have been exposed to toxic materials that appear to have been illegally burned in open pits at the super secret government facility. POGO was concerned that possibly hundreds of employees from this area could be affected by these deadly chemicals. "Witnesses describe chemicals being dumped into huge open trenches that were then burned," Amey added. Tissue samples taken from employees revealed levels of dioxin and furans (immune system suppressants) far in excess of the normal limits for residents in industrialized countries.

In order to handle the potentially explosive legal case, POGO formed an alliance with law professor Jonathan Turley, Director of the Environmental Crimes Project at The George Washington University. Our combined efforts forced the Air Force to acknowledge the existence of Area 51 and led the EPA to monitor the base for environmental hazards for the first time, and to negotiate a Memorandum of Understanding with intelligence agencies to ensure that all "black facilities" comply with environmental laws. That result, however, was bitter sweet because the government was able to thwart the litigation because Area 51 received an exemption for the disclosure of solid waste, which would have assisted the plaintiffs in proving their case, on national security grounds.

The Presidential Determination states:

I find that it is in the paramount interest of the United States to exempt the United States Air Force's operating location near Groom Lake, Nevada, the subject of litigation in Kasza v. Browner (D. Nev. CV-S-94-795-PMP) and Frost v. Perry (D. Nev. CV-S-94-714-PMP), from any applicable requirement for the disclosure to unauthorized persons of classified information concerning that operating location. Therefore, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 6961(a), I hereby exempt the Air Force's operating location near Groom Lake, Nevada, from any Federal, State, interstate or local provision respecting control and abatement of solid waste or hazardous waste disposal that would require the disclosure of classified information concerning the operating location to any unauthorized person. This exemption shall be effective for the full one-year statutory period.

President Bush also said: "Nothing herein is intended to ... (b) limit the applicability or enforcement of any requirement of law applicable to the Air Force's operating location near Groom Lake, Nevada, except those provisions, if any, that would require the disclosure of classified information."

Click here for the official copy of the 2003 Presidential Determination . 

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO's investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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